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I know that some of us hate to admit it, but Apple’s dominance of the MP3 player market isn’t entirely undeserved. Despite stiff competition from Sony, Cowon and Samsung, the iPod touch remains a class-leader, while the iPod nano is one of the most beautifully designed, feature packed audio/video players around.
However, the boys at Cupertino do occasionally come a-cropper, the current iPod shuffle being a case in point. Sure, it’s tiny, practically weightless and rather cute, but the decision to integrate the controls into the headphones means that most buyers are saddled with Apple’s useless earbuds, and there’s no question that it’s horrendously overpriced. While we regularly push people in the direction of the Sandisk Clip+ instead, there’s definitely room on the market for a shuffle done right. After all, if you want music while you’re out in the garden, jogging or exercising at the gym, you just want something cheap, light, durable and fuss-free to take with you.
Enter Cowon, with the iAudio E2.
Cowon’s little beauty isn’t as small or as lightweight as the shuffle, but the minimalist keyring styling, low price and limited feature set all mark it as a competitor to Apple’s product. 2.7cm across, 6.4cm tall and less than 8mm thick it’s still very compact, and with the weight down to 16.6g it practically begs to be hung around your neck or from a belt loop – or simply attached to your keys.
The all-plastic construction means it hasn’t got the bulletproof feel of the aluminium shuffle, but the E2 certainly feels solid enough to take a few hard knocks, and the device exudes an understated cool. If you don’t fancy the black version we’re looking at here, it’s also available in white, pink, violet, sky blue, orange, metallic lilac and mocha brown. If you want a player to match your phone, handbag, car or kitchen appliances, this is it.
As with the shuffle there’s no screen, while controls are kept down to the barest minimum. On the right-hand side we get a square power button and track skip rocker, while the left-hand side gives us an identical set, with the rocker handling volume and the square button switching shuffle mode on and off when held, and flicking between sound presets when pressed rapidly.
Otherwise, the only things you’ll find on the E2 are the headphone socket, which doubles up, with the adaptor provided, as a USB connector, and a tiny green LED indicator which flashes when the unit is switched on. The E2 charges over USB in about ninety minutes, and I’ve had approximately ten hours of use from a charge, which is competitive with Apple’s little offering, though not SanDisk’s 15 hour Clip+.